“I miss you because I need you because I love you. Joe.”
So ended a letter from my Granddad Joe to my Grandma June written many years ago when he was abroad.
This sentence has wedged itself in my consciousness this past week as I traveled to East Tennessee to take care of my Granddad. He has to have 24-hour care now after a recent fall, so I took my turn preparing his meals, counting out pills, cleaning soiled clothes and holding the bed pan when he was sick with an upset stomach.
To decompress from the full days, I occupied my evenings while he was asleep by culling through my memories of him and my Grandma June, including the numerous old letters they exchanged with each other while they were apart – sometimes for months or years at a time – during their courtship and marriage.
In a few of his more lucid moments Granddad would wistfully tell stories about happy memories, including the story of how they fell in love on a blind date in Georgia while he was stationed with the Army in Alabama and how she came to collect the hundreds of turtles that decorate their house. There were also tougher stories about her struggles with mental illness and cancer and reminders of her hospice care and death in their home nearly seven years ago. In her absence, his love has grown to fill the depths of his grief and loneliness. He still needs, misses and loves her.
In forging new friendships or romantic relationships, I think we are often propelled to deepen the relationship by the imagination and excitement that people evoke in us. Even if a relationship is forged in a time of suffering or shared trauma we are drawn to people who bring hopefulness that the pain will heal and bring reassurance that we are not alone.
As one of my favorite saints Dorothy Day writes in the postscript to her autobiography The Long Loneliness, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Thinking about my Grandma and Granddad’s story – a tapestry of love and loneliness – I believe that what we call dating is not about finding that one person that makes loneliness disappear, but meeting all sorts of people who teach us how to love and discover the kind of community that helps us to face the long loneliness together.